Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company declined a request for a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie alongside the words ‘support gay marriage’ and a logo for pressure group QueerSpace. The cake was ordered by gay rights activist Gareth Lee to celebrate International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (17th May).

The request was refused because the company said it was ‘at odds with what the Bible teaches’. General manager Daniel McArthur argued that marriage in Northern Ireland is ‘still…defined as being a union between one man and one woman’ and said Lee was offered a full refund.

The company, which has six shops in the region and employs 62 staff, received a letter from the Equality Commission in July. The commission said it was supporting Lee’s pursuit of ‘modest’ damages for the ‘upset and inconvenience caused’ and that civil action would begin if the bakery did not pay damages within a week.

Ashers did not pay the damages and, replying to the watchdog’s letter, its lawyers stated that ‘their clients have not acted unlawfully’.

Simon Calvert, deputy director at The Christian Institute, said: ‘It is simply baffling for a body supposedly working for equality to be threatening a Christian family, all because of a cake. The Equality Commission has taken four months to dream up new grounds on which to pursue the McArthur family.’

Speaking on Premier Christian Radio, director of Northern Ireland’s Evangelical Alliance (EA) Peter Lynas, said: ‘They’re saying that this is both religious and political discrimination, and we’re really worried this is about privatising religion and saying there’s no place for religion in the workplace or in the public square, and that gay marriage and views about that are political opinions that can also be censored.’

In a similar case earlier this year, Colorado-based Masterpiece Cakeshop was ordered to make wedding cakes for gay couples and to train staff to adhere to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The Christian firm was deemed to have broken the law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. 

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